Flickr User Frost Museum
Flickr User Frost Museum

A Treasure Trove of Parasitic Wasps

Flickr User Frost Museum
Flickr User Frost Museum

For the last three decades, scientists in the Area de Conservacion Guanacaste (ACG), a roughly 1000-square-kilometer chunk of forest in northwestern Costa Rica, have been inventorying and rearing hundreds of thousands of caterpillars. With the help of local apprentices, they comb the forests for the critters, pluck them from plants and the ground, and then string them up in plastic bags in a barn. Then, they watch and wait while the caterpillars pupate to see what emerges. 

Sometimes, it’s a moth or a butterfly, exactly as it should be. Other times, though, it’s a wasp whose mother laid her eggs in the caterpillar before the researchers put it in its bag. After hatching, the wasp larvae devour their host from the inside out and emerge from the corpse. 

There are plenty of parasitoid wasps like this out there (some of which we’ve covered before), and last month the researchers announced that there are plenty more where those came from. Their latest paper describes and names almost 200 new species of the wasp genus Apanteles—which until recently had only three known species! Clearly, the team says, scientists have been underestimating the diversity of parasitoid wasps and, as more and more parts of the world are as well-cataloged as the ACG, the total number of species could be mind-boggling. 

Each of these new wasps is only about as long as a fingernail, and most of them are very choosy when it comes to their caterpillar hosts. The researchers found that around 90 percent of the species parasitize just a few (or even a single) type of caterpillar, suggesting the subfamily they come from is more specialized than anyone knew. 

As I wrote at The Week, parasites are not a very popular conservation cause, but many of them are ecologically important. By turning caterpillars and other insects into zombies and living nurseries and then killing them, Apanteles and other parasitoid wasps provide free pest control. In some parts of the world, people release swarms of them to control problem insects. The researchers in the ACG hope that by getting local people involved in their studies, they can show Costa Ricans the value of these wasps and have more allies for protecting their habitat. As a thank you to their many local lay assistants in the field, the team named many of the new species after them—resulting in beautifully tongue-twisting Latin-Latin American hybrid names like Apanteles jorgehernandezi, A. monicachavarriae, A. raulsolorsanoi, A. robertoespinozai, and A. yolandarojasae. 

Primary photo courtesy the Frost Museum flickr page; cc.

Martin Wittfooth
The Cat Art Show Is Coming Back to Los Angeles in June
Martin Wittfooth
Martin Wittfooth

After dazzling cat and art lovers alike in 2014 and again in 2016, the Cat Art Show is ready to land in Los Angeles for a third time. The June exhibition, dubbed Cat Art Show 3: The Sequel Returns Again, will feature feline-centric works from such artists as Mark Ryden, Ellen von Unwerth, and Marion Peck.

Like past shows, this one will explore cats through a variety of themes and media. “The enigmatic feline has been a source of artistic inspiration for thousands of years,” the show's creator and curator Susan Michals said in a press release. “One moment they can be a best friend, the next, an antagonist. They are the perfect subject matter, and works of art, all by themselves.”

While some artists have chosen straightforward interpretations of the starring subject, others are using cats as a springboard into topics like gender, politics, and social media. The sculpture, paintings, and photographs on display will be available to purchase, with prices ranging from $300 to $150,000.

Over 9000 visitors are expected to stop into the Think Tank Gallery in Los Angeles during the show's run from June 14 to June 24. Tickets to the show normally cost $5, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting a cat charity, and admission will be free for everyone on Wednesday, June 20. Check out a few of the works below.

Man in Garfield mask holding cat.
Tiffany Sage

Painting of kitten.
Brandi Milne

Art work of cat in tree.
Kathy Taselitz

Painting of white cat.
Rose Freymuth-Frazier

A cat with no eyes.
Rich Hardcastle

Painting of a cat on a stool.
Vanessa Stockard

Sculpture of pink cat.
Scott Hove

Painting of cat.
Yael Hoenig
Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images
How a Pregnant Rhino Named Victoria Could Save an Entire Subspecies
Sudan, the last male member of the northern white rhino subspecies, while being shipped to Kenya in 2009
Sudan, the last male member of the northern white rhino subspecies, while being shipped to Kenya in 2009
Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images

The last male northern white rhino died at a conservancy in Kenya earlier this year, prompting fears that the subspecies was finally done for after decades of heavy poaching. Scientists say there's still hope, though, and they're banking on a pregnant rhino named Victoria at the San Diego Zoo, according to the Associated Press.

Victoria is actually a southern white rhino, but the two subspecies are related. Only two northern white rhinos survive, but neither of the females in Kenya are able to reproduce. Victoria was successfully impregnated through artificial insemination, and if she successfully carries her calf to term in 16 to 18 months, scientists say she might be able to serve as a surrogate mother and propagate the northern white rhino species.

But how would that work if no male northern rhinos survive? As the AP explains, scientists are working to recreate northern white rhino embryos using genetic technology. The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research has the frozen cell lines of 12 different northern white rhinos, which can be transformed into stem cells—and ultimately, sperm and eggs. The sperm of the last northern white male rhino, Sudan, was also saved before he died.

Scientists have been monitoring six female southern white rhinos at the San Diego Zoo to see if any emerge as likely candidates for surrogacy. However, it's not easy to artificially inseminate a rhino, and there have been few successful births in the past. There's still a fighting chance, though, and scientists ultimately hope they'll be able to build up a herd of five to 15 northern white rhinos over the next few decades.

[h/t Time Magazine]


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